Cool stuff: Your 2011 holiday tech gift guide

From tablets and smartphones to HDTVs and a few surprises, we've rounded up the best tech gear to give and get this year.

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Sonos Play:3 and Bridge

The music revolution wrought by technology has been largely about digitizing music onto computers and portable devices, and about the growth of streaming music services like Pandora and Internet radio. But while digital music is firmly entrenched in the 21st century, speaker technology has largely stayed in the mid-20th.

Sonos Play:3 and Bridge

Sonos Play:3 speaker and Bridge

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Sure, you can buy speakers that play Internet radio or music streamed from a computer or mobile device wirelessly. But the $299 Sonos Play:3 speaker, coupled with the company's Bridge networking device ($49), represents the next step forward for digital music.

This great system lets you stream your entire digital music collection to any place in your house wirelessly, with remarkable sound quality despite a small footprint (5.2 x 10.6 x 6.3 in.) and very light weight (5.7 lb.). You can also stream Spotify, Pandora and countless lesser-known streaming music services, as well as tune in to thousands of Internet radio stations.

Just plug the Bridge into your Wi-Fi router, and it shares the wireless connection with one or many Sonos speakers. You control the speaker either from software on your PC or Mac, or via a free iOS or Android app.

And here's where it gets really cool: If you have more than one Play:3, each operates independently of the others, so you can listen to blues in the kitchen, classical in the living room and salsa in your office.

So if you've got a music lover on your list this year, the Sonos Play:3 and Bridge make a great way to bring their audio system into the 21st century.

You might also like: The $399 Sonos Play:5 speaker is bigger and pricier than the Play:3, and also has richer sound. If you're willing to spend $100 more for someone who has the extra room, it's worth a look.

-- Preston Gralla

Play:3 and Bridge from Sonos

Price: $299 for Play:3, $49 for Bridge

Tech specs  |  Product video  |  Store locator  |  Phone: (800) 680-2345

Summary: The Sonos Play:3 and Bridge combo wirelessly streams your music collection -- and services like Spotify and Pandora -- to a great-sounding speaker.

Boogie Board Rip LCD Writing Tablet

We all like to jot down a note now and again, or do a quick sketch, or even just doodle. The Boogie Board Rip LCD Writing Tablet offers your giftee a great way to save notes and sketches to a computer rather than wasting paper.

Boogie Board Rip LCD Writing Tablet

Boogie Board Rip LCD Writing Tablet

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The Boogie Board is a lightweight (11.5 oz.) device that provides a 9.5-in. pressure-sensitive LCD writing surface on which to doodle or draw using a simple included stylus. Above the writing surface are two buttons: one to erase your image when you're finished, and the other to save it -- either to the Boogie Board's internal memory (it comes with 8MB) or to an external device as a PDF file (via the included USB connection cable).

This isn't a perfect solution, especially if your gift recipient likes to create very detailed artwork -- some users have complained that the thickness of the lines drawn on the physical board aren't reflected in the saved PDF file. But for recording quick thoughts and doing simple sketching, the Boogie Board is ideal.

You might also like: If your giftee doesn't need to save her work, the Boogie Board 8.5 is a great stocking stuffer at $39.95.

-- Barbara Krasnoff

Boogie Board Rip LCD Writing Tablet from Improv Electronics

Price: $129.99

Tech specs | Product video | Where to buy | Phone: (855) 224-0888

Summary: The Boogie Board Rip LCD Writing Tablet lets you take notes, doodle and sketch -- and then save it to PDF -- without muss, fuss or paper.

Zomm Wireless Leash

Is there someone on your gift list who's always walking out the door without his cell phone? This handy little Bluetooth device may be just what he needs.

Zomm Wireless Leash

Zomm Wireless Leash

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Less than two inches across and about half an inch thick, the disc-shaped Zomm Wireless Leash attaches to a keychain that can be easily slipped into a pocket or purse. If it gets too far away from the Bluetooth-enabled phone that it's paired with (about 30 feet by default, but that's configurable), the Zomm vibrates, flashes and emits loud beeps, making it very unlikely you'll forget your phone.

The Zomm also works as a decent speakerphone for hands-free calling when clipped to a car's visor, and it has a panic button feature that sounds an alarm when you press and hold it for 10 seconds; hold it down longer and it calls 911.

Available in black, white or pink, the basic Wireless Leash lists for $90, but you can find it cheaper online. There's also the Zomm Wireless Leash Plus, which costs $10 more and works with the free myZomm App for Android or iOS to help you keep track of all kinds of objects besides your phone.

The Zomm does have some downsides: Leaving it paired with a phone can be a drain on the phone's battery, and it's easy to forget to turn the Zomm off when its distance alarm isn't needed -- for instance, when leaving your phone at your desk to attend a meeting. But for someone who has a bad habit of leaving expensive phones behind, it could really save the day.

-- Valerie Potter

Zomm Wireless Leash from Zomm LLC

Street price: $70 - $85

Tech specs  |  Product videos  |  Phone: (888) 821-0888

Summary: The handy Zomm Wireless Leash keeps you from leaving your phone behind.

Striiv

There are a number of digital devices out there meant to encourage those of us who do a lot of sitting and computing to move around and get fit. Last year, our gift guide featured the FitBit, a small padded paperclip-type device that records your activities and downloads it to a website.

Striiv

Striiv

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For more immediate feedback, there's the Striiv, a tiny, lightweight device with a 2-in. color touch display that tracks the number of steps you take and stairs you climb throughout the day. At any time, you can find out how you're doing compared to your daily average or to your maximums for the last week or last month.

The Striiv also tries to push its users to move more. As you earn energy points, you can use them to populate a fantasy landscape with creatures, plants and buildings. You can also take part in a virtual walkathon and donate to one of three charitable causes (according to its literature, Striiv has partnered with an organization called GlobalGiving for this purpose). And you can set yourself challenges such as a number of stairs to climb in 15 minutes, or a number of miles to walk in 30 minutes.

Striiv shipped in October 2011 and still has a few glitches, mainly involving the software it uses to sync with a computer (so you can register your charitable contribution), which is still in beta and singularly uninformative. But on the whole, this is a really fun and informative way to help someone you care about get motivated to get moving.

-- Barbara Krasnoff

Striiv from Striiv Inc.

Price: $99

Tech specs  |  Product video

Summary: If somebody in your life needs to get up and get moving, Striiv is a fun and convenient digital motivation tool.

iGo Charge Anywhere

Know someone who needs to keep two or more mobile devices charged when they travel? The iGo Charge Anywhere can provide juice to two devices simultaneously via its dual USB ports, and with an array of available adapter tips that plug into those ports, it's compatible with thousands of phones and other small devices (check for specific devices here).

iGo Charge Anywhere

iGo Charge Anywhere

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Big deal! At least a dozen other (less expensive) universal chargers can do the same thing.

But the Charge Anywhere stands out from the crowd for a couple of reasons. It includes a 1800mAh battery so you can charge your device even when you're away from an outlet -- which, of course, is inevitably when your battery dies. And it's light (3.8 oz.) and compact (just 2.28 x 2.52 x 1.46 in.) with plug blades that fold in, so it's easy to carry around everywhere.

Note: The iGo site, which lists the Charge Anywhere at $40, says it's currently out of stock, but it's widely available at online retailers for around $32. You get one free adapter tip (plus the two USB ports) with the charger; additional tips range from $7.50 to $13.

For someone who's always on the go, the Charge Anywhere makes a very handy stocking stuffer.

You might also like: For something a bit more upscale, how about the AViiQ Portable Charging Station? This $80 charger houses a four-port USB hub in a slender zip-up case; USB cables stay inside in an orderly, clutter-free fashion.

-- Valerie Potter

Charge Anywhere from iGo

Street price: $32 - $50

Tech specs  |  Phone: (888) 205-0093

Summary: The iGo Charge Anywhere keeps mobile devices charged even away from an outlet.

Copyright © 2011 IDG Communications, Inc.

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